MUSIC REVIEW: Bruce Springsteen

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions Columbia
Music •••• Sound •••½ DualDisc Extras ••••
Before you listen to this album of folk tunes, handpicked by Bruce Springsteen from the repertoire of Pete Seeger, watch the 30-minute documentary on the DVD side of this DualDisc. It helps to see the homespun spirit of camaraderie at work when this group of about a dozen musicians - sometimes more, sometimes fewer - laid down these recordings at Springsteen's farmland estate in New Jersey. Moreover, you get to hear a lot of insightful whys and wherefores from Bruce, such as his contention that the folk songbook needs to be revived and recontextualized every so often, lest it lose its familiarity and relevance - ergo, the logic behind We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

The group that accompanies him isn't the E Street Band but could rather be dubbed the Bleecker Street Band. They're mostly New York musicians - a banjo player, an accordionist, two fiddlers, several horn players and background singers - with whom Springsteen has attempted to recreate the sound and feel of an old-time folk jamboree. His wife Patti is on hand, as are latter-day E Streeter Soozie Tyrell and trombonist Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg, who you may remember from Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

The vibe of The Seeger Sessions - a return to roots, with music made on acoustic instruments and with a choir of friends and family singing along - is similar to that of Neil Young's recent work. Coincidence? Hardly. Our society is in dire need of a return to community, common sense, and convictions. The unspoken message of both Bruce's and Neil's recent work is: Hang up the cellphone and start connecting with one another for real.

What's especially enjoyable about the album is the organic interplay of musicians running through a peck of songs from the folk canon so spontaneously and unselfconsciously, creating magic on the fly. Springsteen and crew dig into the man-vs.-machine tall tale of "John Henry," the sorrowful antiwar message of "Mrs. McGrath" ("All foreign wars, I do proclaim / Live on blood and a mother's pain"), and the workers' sing-along "Erie Canal." Springsteen also shows a surprising knack for spirituals, such as in "Jacob's Ladder" and a solemn, prayerful "We Shall Overcome." All in all, it's another gutsy, well-timed gesture by our most masterful active singer, songwriter, and (now) interpreter.

One technical note: The DVD side of the DualDisc does not offer a surround mix of the album. However, the documentary - which includes performance footage of the sessions - has been mixed in both stereo and 5.1. You also get two bonus audio tracks, "Buffalo Gals" and "How Can I Keep from Singing."

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